It IS him; Shaggy's hits make him a real "Hotshot": Reuters

March 2001 Article

It IS him; Shaggy's hits make him a real "Hotshot"

By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Reuters) - Reggae-pop superstar Shaggy has every reason to, as he sings in his current hit, "Angel," "Show the nation my appreciation."

After a slow start, his latest album, "Hotshot," is living up to its name. It has spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and sold more than 5 million copies worldwide (3 million in the United States).

Most of those sales were sparked by the release late last year of "It Wasn't Me," a slyly humorous vamp about cheating on a girlfriend that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and brought the phrase "buck-naked bangin' on the bathroom floor" into the adolescent vernacular.

"Angel" -- a celebratory love song that fuses Steve Miller's "The Joker" with Juice Newton's "Angel of the Morning" -- has continued the momentum, as well as vindicating Shaggy's own instincts about what would put "Hotshot" over the top.

"The two songs blowing up right now, 'It Wasn't Me' and 'Angel,' I spotted as singles from day one," explains Shaggy, 32, a Jamaican native who was born Orville Richard Burrell.

His record company, MCA, didn't agree; executives there insisted that the first single be "Dance & Shout," produced by the Minneapolis-based Flyte Tyme team that also was behind "Luv Me Luv Me," Shaggy's hit from the film "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

Shaggy didn't mind.

"I had real chemistry with (Flyte Tyme)," he says, then hastens to add, "the chemistry really lies with my own production team," with whom he created "Angel" and "It Wasn't Me."


Shaggy, whose stage name came from friends, referring to his perpetually unkempt coif, was raised by his grandmother in Kingston after his mother, a journalist, moved to New York City. He joined her when he was 18, intent on starting a music career.

But when that plan didn't immediately work out, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps., eventually assigned combat duty in Operation Desert Storm. His chest wasn't brimming with medals upon his discharge, however.

"I was not a model Marine," he acknowledges. "I came out of it still a private first-class, no promotions, man. But that's because I wanted to do music, and I was UA, unauthorized absence, all the time, because I wanted to make records. I went home on weekends, from North Carolina; you're not supposed to go outside of a 50-mile radius, and I went to New York every weekend.

"I scrubbed many a toilet, man, let me tell you."

Things improved after the military, however. In 1992, Shaggy scored an independent label hit, "Oh Carolina," which led to a contract with Virgin Records. His 1995 release "Boombastic" went platinum and earned a Grammy Award for best reggae album.

But when it's successor, "Midnite Lover," stiffed -- which Shaggy attributes to poor promotion from Virgin's new management regime -- he found himself back on the streets.

"I'm reggae, and there is no story there," he explains. "There is no track record of huge success in reggae, longevity wise. There are artists who have come up and made a great impact, but no artists who have had consistency where dance-hall and reggae are concerned, beyond the great Bob Marley -- and he died years ago.

"It's a whole new era now. You have a Lenny Kravitz who might have a bad year, but they don't bail on him because they feel he's a career artist. With a Shaggy, it's like, 'OK, well maybe the juice has run out of the bubble gum. Let's move on."'


Fortunately, the mildly salacious "Luv Me Luv Me" gave Shaggy a second chance, and even as "Dance & Shout" met with a lukewarm response, Shaggy was supremely confident that "It Wasn't Me" would awaken the masses.

"It's an old story, man," he says. "'It Wasn't Me' is one of them songs that the lyrical content kinda touched home for a lot of people -- either you knew someone who did it or it happened to you personally. Or you wish it had happened to you.

"But it's also the way it was pleasantly and cleverly done. We do songs with clever writing; we can do songs with adult content without being explicit. I hate to hear records that bleep, bleep, bleep; kids still know what ... you're saying. But when it's done this way, it's a lot more subtle and clever -- and entertaining, I think."

And, Shaggy contends, the song also conveys a positive message.

"At the end, it sums it up, 'I'm gonna tell her I'm sorry/For the pain I caused/You may say you're a playa/But you're completely lost,"' he says. "We did that to say we're not condoning these actions" described in the rest of the song.

Shaggy expects more hits to fire off of "Hotshot," and he plans to hit the road in June with a lineup that includes the Backstreet Boys and Destiny's Child. But he also plans to help "It Wasn't Me" vocalist Ricardo "RikRok" Ducent and "Angel" singer Rayvon with their own projects, which will likely be released on Shaggy's own Big Yard label.

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(Gary Graff is a nationally syndicated journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is the supervising editor of the award-winning "MusicHound" album guide series. Opinions expressed here are his own.)


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January 26, 2003 at 12:56 PM